|The "new" 2017 Envision presents a lot of opportunity for Buick to gain market share in North America. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
This issue is even more pronounced amongst entry-level luxury brands like Acura and Buick, with Honda’s premium division requiring a subcompact SUV to battle the popular Encore, and GM’s near-premium subsidiary having long needed a compact crossover to go up against the RDX. Thanks to the new 2017 Envision this latter problem is now resolved, but is it good enough to unseat the mighty RDX.
|The design seems a bit dated despite being new to our market. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
The Envision didn’t enter the picture until April of last year, yet still managed to attract more than a thousand new buyers. By the end of Q2 2017 its sales had already exceeded 1,500 units, while just two months later there were 2,145 new Envisions down Canadian roads. Although nowhere near as strong as the segment leader that’s already sold nearing 7,000 units this year, the opportunity to add thousands
|The Envision gets Buick’s older waterfall grille instead of the newer, sportier design found on the Encore, LaCrosse, and upcoming Enclave. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
That’s the first thing I noticed when looking it over in my driveway. It’s new, but it already looks a bit dated. Its shape is conservative for sure, but that’s not the issue. It seems like an SUV Buick might have envisioned (sorry for the pun) a few years ago, complete with a chromed waterfall grille and “ventiports” atop the hood. These design elements were eliminated from this year’s new-look Encore and the latter moved over to the front fenders for the recently redesigned LaCrosse, but they’re still part of the “new” Envision.
|LED signatures help modernize the headlights, which aren’t available with full LED illumination. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Before we do, a bit more about its origins. The Envision hails from GM’s very successful SAIC General Motors Corp., which manufactures and sells Buick, Chevrolet, and Cadillac brand vehicles in Mainland China, a Shanghai-based venture that first produced the Buick Regal in 1999 and has since resulted in one of
|Buick offers an optional set of machine-finished 19-inch alloys that are more up-to-date. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Yes, the Envision is produced in SAIC-GM’s Shanghai facility and then shipped here, which only makes me wonder why it took so long. Certainly they could’ve picked a better year to do it, with President Trump’s anti-offshoring rhetoric and all,
|Standard LED taillights provide quick response for added safety. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
After all, if it weren’t for the Chinese market there wouldn’t be a Buick today, which means our friends across the Pacific deserve all the jobs this once solely domestic brand can allow for. If it were up to the North American market, we’d be wandering through show ‘n shine shows on Sundays telling our kids about this great tri-shield brand that made now legendary nameplates like the GNX/Grand National, Riviera (how I love anything from 1963–1965), Roadmaster (especially the
|The two-tone interior increases the Envision’s overall wow factor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
To be completely clear, global Buick deliveries were 1,432,679 units last year, beating its previous best year ever (2015) by 200,698 for a 16.3 percent increase. Can you guess how many of those sales were from the U.S. and Canada? The world’s largest vehicle market accounted for just 229,631 Buick deliveries during the 12 months of 2016, whereas Canadians purchased just 19,053, no doubt many sold to new Canadians of Chinese descent (or at least that’s what my local dealer tells me). So on behalf of all classic automobile brand lovers, thank you China
|The cabin is certainly stylish and modern looking. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Before signing off on the Chinese connection, a bit of Buick history is in order. Most of us aren’t aware that Buick has been a fixture in the Chinese market for longer than luxury brands like Audi, BMW, and even Mercedes-Benz have been in existence, let alone Acura, Lexus and Infiniti. The modern era of the four-ringed Audi brand we know today began in the late 1960s, whereas BMW started producing cars in 1928, although these were rebadged Austin 7s. It wasn’t until the 1950s they started building cars of their own design. Mercedes? It began as a brand in 1926. Buick was well established in China long before this. In fact, Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, and Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the country’s first provisional president, used early Buick models. What’s more, by 1930 one of every six cars in Shanghai was a Buick.
|The large 8.0-inch multi-info display is optional, but a fully configurable gauge cluster is not available. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
|Buick’s infotainment touchscreen is one of its best features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
The Envision is, however, in both its pricing that starts at $40,295 plus freight and fees, which is near the bottom of the premium pack, and its standard and available feature set. As for materials quality it’s a mixed bag. Given a cursory glance the design is elegantly attractive in a traditional Buick way, with plenty of glossy woodgrain, tastefully applied metal-like brightwork, plus no shortage of both genuine and man-made leathers.
The latter isn’t an issue as it’s applied generously by most in this class. In fact, the contrast-stitched padded leatherette covering the Envision’s dash and door uppers
|A closer look at the touchscreen shows a bright, colourful, high-resolution interface. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
On the contrary, some particularly nice soft-touch synthetic trim is fitted above and below the contrast coloured door inserts and armrests, while Buick even went so far as to wrap the outer portions of the centre stack and lower console in padded
|This analogue clock is a nice touch. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
This in mind, most rivals use genuine aluminum or hardwood inlays across the instrument panel and doors, so I was also disappointed with Buick’s choice of faux wood, despite being denser than most of the fake woodgrain it’s used in the past. Truly, I almost believed it was real, so I suppose we can give them a partial pass for looking legit while saving trees. Then again, my top-line tester’s leather upholstery was a bit low rent for the premium class, at least as far as suppleness goes. What’s more, Buick wraps the front roof pillars in fabric yet doesn’t apply this de rigueur luxury feature anywhere else, so once again the Envision doesn’t measure up to the class average.
|Three-zone auto HVAC is standard, and the switchgear is good enough albeit nowhere near class leading. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
My tester was equipped in full load Premium II trim, which means it was equipped with nearly everything Buick could throw at it, except some obvious options that should’ve been added to optimize the experience. The most notable omission was any sort of sunroof, this especially odd because a powered panoramic glass roof is available as a standalone option for only $1,695. I’ve read that its inclusion can cramp second-row headroom, however, so possibly that’s why it wasn’t part of our
|The soft padded leatherette around the centre console is impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
I can only guess the powers that be in Oshawa didn’t want we journos griping about the price tag rubbing up against $60k when fully optioned out, which left my tester costing $49,665 before freight and fees, instead of its fully loaded MSRP of $56,825. Of course, add similar features to one of the Envision’s competitors and you’ll face similar sticker shock, or considerably more if it’s European-sourced, which makes this Buick a more value-oriented premium compact SUV, and reason enough for its reasonably strong early sales.
|Faux wood is never the best, but its density felt genuine. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Features pulled up from the lower trims include fog lamps, 19-inch 10-spoke alloys, chromed roof rails, remote engine start, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, a garage door opener, a heatable leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a large 8.0-inch colour multi-information display within the primary gauge cluster, forward collision alert, a following distance indicator, blindspot monitoring with lane change alert and rear
|Nice looking seats, although the leather isn’t as supple as most rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
|Rear seat spaciousness is excellent, the Envision delivering superb rear legroom. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Transport Canada claims 11.8 L/100km city, 9.1 highway, and 10.6 combined for the more formidable engine, which measures up pretty well against the larger but less powerful, the 2.5 achieving an estimated 11.1 L/100km city,
|This is a handy underfloor cargo compartment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
The more powerful Envision gets a torque-vectoring rear differential too, but both SUVs offer up somewhat uninspiring six-speed automatic transmissions with manual mode in a market mostly made up of smoother, quicker shifting eight-speed autos, and unlike the Acura this Buick doesn’t offer paddle shifters. Still, the Envision’s suspension did a good job of keeping up with the engine’s surprisingly quick straight-line performance, really impressing me through fast-paced tight corners, staying solidly in its lane and not leaning as much as I expected it to, especially considering its compliant ride. The way Buick has managed
|The cargo area finishing is good and seats fold into a flat load floor, but it comes up short on space. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Another surprise was how nicely finished the cargo compartment was, with upscale carpeting, chromed tie-down rings, and a chromed handle for lifting the load floor up and accessing a removable divided compartment and the spare tire below. Even better, chromed levers on the cargo sidewalls lowered each portion of the 60/40-split rear seatbacks automatically. On that note, GM hasn’t learned how convenient it is to live with 40/20/40-split seatbacks and doesn’t offer a centre pass-through either, so someone in back will no doubt be complaining about not getting to use the outboard seat heaters when heading home from the ski hill.
|GM should be proud of their new turbo-four engines as they measure up well against Euro competitors. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
At the end of my test week it was abundantly clear the new Envision is not the best available in its ever-growing compact luxury SUV class, but as noted earlier it’s third most affordable and still plenty impressive. Hence why it’s selling quite well. Well, that along with Canada’s large population of Chinese immigrants who have a special affinity for all things Buick. This market niche is a significant opportunity GM Canada will want to cater to, but I don’t see the brand attracting as many up and coming Canadians from alternative backgrounds despite offering what is now a truly imported model.
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